How about an all-in-one device that cooks and slices your homemade pizza? Or coffee that helps you lose weight, or a new kind of golf tee that improves your driving range performance? These are all innovative ideas developed by veterans and pitched to judges in the culmination of a new, state-funded entrepreneurship program recently completed at the University of North Florida.
Navigating the transition from military to civilian life is challenging for many veterans. Entrepreneurship can be a viable next career path, and the experience and discipline learned in the military can provide a competitive edge in starting a business. To help translate the skills learned in the military to entrepreneurship, Veterans Florida and the FSBDC Network, in partnership with five Florida institutions of higher education, joined forces to offer the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program, a three-phase training program designed to accelerate the entrepreneurism for qualified veterans. The Military and Veterans Resource Center at UNF administered the program in this region under center director Ray Wikstrom and program manager Bob Buehn.
The participating veterans completed a seven-week online course in Phase 1 and then came to the UNF campus for three weekends at the Coggin College of Business for hands-on instruction in Phase 2. Over thirty business owners acted as mentors guiding the veterans through the business creation process. Experts in areas such as branding, obtaining funding, marketing, and social media shared their knowledge while program instructors Dr. John Mundy and Diane Denslow guided the process.
Thirty veterans completed the program and now have business plans that have been through a rigorous process, which will enhance their chances for success. Phase 3 of the program is follow-up mentoring through the Small Business Development Centers around the state.
Politicians and business leaders including State Senator Audrey Gibson, along with Bobby Carbonell, executive director of Veterans Florida, addressed the veterans during the second phase. Other special guests included Capt. Joe O’Conor, USN, Ret., a Veterans Florida board member, and Dennis Baker, program coordinator of the Florida Veterans Foundation, along with the Dean of the Coggin College of Business, Dr. Mark Dawkins.